Republicans, eager to get home for Christmas, have agreed to give back some of their debate time which delayed the inevitable, setting up a final vote on the Senate health care bill on December 24, this Thursday, at 8am ET. Previously, the Senate would have had to wait, if the Republicans stretched out the clock, to 8pm that night or even later. Now they can achieve the vote and be back in their states in time for the Christmas goose.
Once the bill passes the Senate on Thursday morning, the wrangling over the conference committee between the House and the Senate, and what the final bill will actually look like, can begin in earnest. Expect that to carry into January. The Senate bill does not have 218 votes in the House; the House bill does not have 60 votes in the Senate. So something will have to give, not just on the public option but on a host of fronts. There are multiple opportunities to improve the Senate bill in ways that could be broadly acceptable to both houses of Congress.
UPDATE: In addition, the Senate will vote Thursday morning to temporarily raise the debt limit so Treasury can continue borrowing. The fix would extend the capacity for two months while a bigger solution can be reached. The vote on the debt ceiling will require 60 votes; some fiscal scolds like Kent Conrad and Judd Gregg have considered hijacking the vote unless they get an independent deficit commission, but that threat will probably not impact this vote (though it’s still alive as a going concern when Congress has to revisit this in March).